True Peace With God

True Peace With God

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Welcome to the 2nd Sunday of Easter, dear friends… or as it is sometimes known in a tongue-in-cheek way, “Bash the Apostle Sunday.” There is certainly much for which we could chide poor St. Thomas. Doing so is easy. He didn’t have faith, at least he didn’t that first time, when informed of Jesus’ appearance among the disciples during Thomas’ absence.

Now, you and I, of course… we’d never doubt what a fellow believer told us about Jesus, right? We’d never struggle with the idea of resurrection. We’d never set aside Jesus’ own words that, “the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of evil men, and be crucified, and after three days rise,” right? Certainly not! We’re so much stronger in our faith than Thomas was!

So, for which of the two sins shall I lambaste you? The sin of hypocrisy, in that you know full well that you have wrestled against the reality of the resurrection on numerous occasions, but just won’t admit it? Or the sin of pride, for actually thinking that your doubtful ability not to doubt somehow indicates a certain strength of character that originated within you?

Take your time to decide; I’ll be here all morning. The remedy to either answer is the same: Repent. Believe in the one of whom St. John wrote, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.”

Yes, we’ve got plenty of sin to keep ourselves occupied with repentance, leaving poor St. Thomas out of it. Although Thomas is certainly an important person in today’s Gospel lesson, he’s not the central person is he? It’s Jesus who is there with His fledgling Church in the upper room on the occasion of both visits. Jesus is always there—whether we realize it or not; whether we believe in Him or not. Our doubts and fears and locked doors don’t keep Him away, any more than our confidence or willingness to confess Him make Him any more real or true. The latter—gifts of God, not achievements of our soul—simply make His presence more apparent and more comforting to us. They don’t change His faithfulness.

So, let’s leave poor Thomas be, and focus on our own situations, shall we? He’s shown his faithfulness in his apostolic ministry, something you and I can only look upon in awe with thanks to God. There are all sorts of attitudes people can take toward eternal life. There’s a portion of humanity that rejects the notion entirely, thinking that the “here and now” is all there is to our existence. But the majority of our fallen race holds some sort of hope in a hereafter for themselves and those they care about. Everyone likes to think that he or she will somehow be saved.

For much of human history, writers and thinkers have speculated on how people ought to behave toward others. Theories abound, but not only are almost all of them wrong, virtually all of them are ignored on account of our fallen, selfish nature. For all our pious pontificating, anything apart from what God has revealed to us about our fear, love, and trust in Him, and our love for our neighbor, is to no avail.

Our actions, at the coarsest level, can only fall into two categories: The things we do for others—those which are genuinely right and true—and those things we do for ourselves. “Wait; what about those things we do for God?” you might be asking. “No such thing,” I reply. He needs nothing from you; you cannot benefit God. Your doings arise either from faith or selfishness, but either way, they do not make God better off. Only His actions toward you, and your actions done for others in repentance and sacrifice, are of any value.

You can try to please God and pump up your spirituality in all sorts of pious works—donations, daily devotions and prayer, fasting, refraining from certain worldly pleasures, whatever it might be that you’ve determined is your “good work of choice,” and in the end, you’ll find yourself condemned. Such thinking is clouded by our desire to contribute something toward our salvation, but they all amount to nothing.

It would be best if we were to consider them as such, even to repent of them, but we have a hard time letting them go. Yet none of our works have any power whatsoever in saving us or anyone else.

It was Christ’s work alone to crush death, destroy sin, and burst the gates of hell’s prison. No one else was worthy or capable; no one else could have done battle with Satan and won.

Our sins have their source in Adam, and because of his fall into sin, our nature is corrupt. For our sake, though, Christ has shattered death. By His works—done for us, and not by us—we are forgiven, rescued, and renewed.

There are plenty of religions in the world that will let you try to work your way to salvation. They’ll give you rules about fasting, praying, and good works, and teach you that doing your best to keep their commandments will save you—maybe, if their god wills it. It’s very seductive to have a nice, clear checklist. It’ll delude you into thinking that goodness and salvation somehow lies in your own works.

But remember this: Not even any of those in the upper room that night—none of the saints of any age, for that matter—achieved their own salvation by their works. Not Peter, not Paul, not John, not Thomas. Not even the virgin Mary, in all her faithful submittal to God’s will in bearing the Savior, became righteous by obedience. Salvation does not lie within us, no matter how good and just we may think we are. It cannot come by any path other than faith.

And how do we come to faith, you ask? We don’t come to faith at all. Faith comes to us, just as Jesus came to the fearful Church in the upper room. Our Lord comes and says, “Peace be with you. Behold my hands and my side.” In other words, Jesus says, “I am the One who has taken away your sins; I have redeemed you. Be at peace.” We have all inherited sin from Adam; it originated from outside us. So, too, our righteousness does not originate within us, either. We might suffer some of the consequences of our sin and others’ sin, but we have not suffered the punishment for them. Christ did that for us, and so we are made free from death and sin by God’s work, not by our works. God is our redemption, writes Isaiah; Christ is our justification, writes Paul.

Christ’s works make us good! Jesus says: “I have justified you. I have destroyed your sins. You need only believe that I have done this for you.”

Our world is full of wickedness, and stands condemned under God’s judgment. Tragically, rather than fleeing from their errors, people pervert God’s truth and deceive themselves in their own minds. But for those whom God has chosen, He will arise in us by His Spirit. This alone means a new birth for us. Though we continue to struggle with sin, alive in Christ we do not allow this to lead us into despair. Instead, we can say, “Our Savior lives; He is risen! He had battled and destroyed my sin, and what’s more, He had destroyed death.” In that very confession of Him, our sin is gone.

The world is greatly in error when it comes to salvation. The Word of God is so rarely preached in its truth and purity, and even less so is it received by unhardened hearts.

Kyrie Eleison; Lord, have mercy!

Thanks be to God, when the devil attacks us and tries to put us in doubt or fear, like he did to Thomas in the upper room, or to Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, we have a place to turn. We can take refuge in faith, clinging to our chief cornerstone, Jesus. This stymies Satan and keeps us safe in Christ.

The Lord said three times to Simon: “Peter, do you love me?” Though this pained Peter greatly, it was necessary for his restoration. It was only after Peter had returned to faith and reconciliation with God that Jesus gave him good works to do: “Peter, feed my sheep.” How does this happen? The sheep of Christ are fed by the shepherds of Christ, giving them what Jesus, during His temptation, told the devil is necessary for their nourishment: That man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. The sheep are fed only by the preaching of the Word of God, only by the preaching of faith, only by receiving the Word with the water; only by receiving the Word with the body and the blood.

Our sinful nature rebels against this truth. You don’t like to hear this, and sometimes, neither do I. It’s annoying and irritating to be reminded of this, too. But it’s important that we hear it, and it’s important that we continue to remind one another of it within the Church; important that we are ready and willing to proclaim it to those outside the Church.

In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet makes it clear that this is among our responsibilities as believers. We are told, “If you forsake your neighbor, see him going astray, and do not help him, do not preach to him, I will call you to account for his soul.” We can be as pious and outwardly righteous as we want to be, but doing so is not a good work if it benefits no one but ourselves.

You can read your Bible, pray frequently, kneel before a crucifix, and say a lot of words, all the time thinking that you aren’t sinning. And yet in our hearts we envy our neighbors and the seeming freedom and pleasure they have, unburdened by any accountability to God. But the paradise in which they seem to live is nothing more than the palace of the devil. We don’t like to hear this. Nevertheless, it is the truth.

When Jesus came to the fearful disciples, He brought His precious wounds to show them that it was truly Him, risen from the dead. He also brought them His peace, given in the assurance that we have true reconciliation with the Father, which comes through the forgiveness of sins. And He sent them forth with the authority and the responsibility to bring that forgiveness to others. It was there, that very night, that He gave His Church the absolution—the same authority that His Church exercises to this very day, the very same blessing that you received again this very morning.

Therefore, we do not build our confidence upon human law or our works, but rather on the promises of God which are made ours in Christ Jesus. By true faith in the One who is the destroyer of sin, we find ourselves both forgiven and growing in Him. Everything that was once bitter is made sweet. When we are despised and rejected by the world, we need not pay it any heed. For we are united with God. No hardship, suffering, or tragedy shall undo the peace we have with Him.

We can continue to pray, to fast, and to worship, now knowing that this is not something we do for God, but something He gives to us as means of reflection, means of focus, and avenues through which His means of grace can reach us. Where there is present a right Christian love and faith, then everything we do is focused not on ourselves, but on being God’s servant to others.

May we each reflect and remember that we cannot help ourselves, only God provides our rescue. Our works are utterly worthless for salvation. Abandoning them for the sake of Christ, we have the peace of God that Jesus brings. We are freed to perform works that benefit not ourselves, but one another; our neighbor. And chief among these is the work of proclaiming the truth that He suffered and died for their sins; He atoned for the transgressions of all people, even them. And He has been raised in glory to show that His wounds were very real, but His resurrection is realer still.

Christ has been raised for our sakes. Let us also arise to be helpful to those lacking or weak in faith, and thus direct our work, so that God may be pleased with it. In such a posture may we receive and amplify the peace He has given us. May God grant us this every day, for Christ is risen. Amen.